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Liverpool fixture congestion presents serious conundrum

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While many folks were still catching their breath, the wild Liverpool win over Arsenal on penalties in the EFL Cup two days ago caused a number of executives and officials to groan.

Jurgen Klopp brought Liverpool’s fixture congestion issue to the forefront with his surprising threat on Wednesday that the club could pull out of the EFL Cup. While that remains highly unlikely, the problem for the Reds is real, and lots of shuffling will likely have to happen for the Reds to fulfill all its commitments this season.

With lots of possibilities thrown into the air of late, here is a breakdown of where the club currently stands.

Current commitments

“You go through the fixture list, trying to fit in the Carabao Cup game and go ‘wow!'” Klopp said in his press conference on Friday. “There’s a long way to go, problems to sort and a lot of yards to run. But it’s the basis we’ve created and it’s a lot better than we could have expected, points-wise.”

Liverpool is at the moment locked into a significant number of commitments. Here is where they stand in all competitions outside the league at the moment:

Champions League – vs. Genk 11/5, vs. Napoli 11/27, @ RB Salzburg 12/10

FA Cup – draw has not yet taken place, first possible game 1/3

EFL Cup – @ Aston Villa 12/17 (quarterfinals), vs. TBD 1/7 or 8 and 1/28 or 29 (semifinals, if necessary)

Club World Cup – vs. TBD 12/18, vs. TBD 12/21 (competition takes place in Qatar)

Conflicts

As you can see above, the conflict presents itself between the Club World Cup and the EFL Cup match against Aston Villa. It would be impossible for the club to fulfill the schedule as currently constructed, playing at Aston Villa on December 17 and then flying to Qatar for its first Club World Cup match on December 18.

Rescheduling the EFL Cup match has been an absolute nightmare thanks to other conflicts as well, with Liverpool booked midweek for the next few months. Following the November international break, Liverpool has its Champions League game against Napoli on 11/27 followed by a pair of Premier League games against Bournemouth and Everton both scheduled for the next week. Liverpool then plays its final Champions League game against RB Salzburg on 12/10 before the Club World Cup trip the next week.

The festive period comes next with league games against Leicester City, Wolves, and Sheffield United through 1/2, and then the first leg of the EFL Cup semifinals are scheduled for the next week, leaving no time for the quarterfinal to be rescheduled anywhere in that span.

Possible solutions

“The discussion is obvious, that it is too much,” Klopp said on Friday. “It is absolutely obvious. Everyone involved in the game knows. Nobody wants to touch it, nobody really discusses about it. Then Uefa decides to make the Nations League, give the successful players a couple of more intense games.

“People then say you need a bigger squad. The game is not made for bigger squads. At the moment there is an imbalance between the number of players in the squad, the competitions you play and a big gap between the breaks the boys need. They have two weeks off a year, in a physically demanding game. The solutions, I think there are a few possible, but the leagues have to sit and really discuss and think about the players and maybe not their wallet. We discuss it always on the back of the money we earn. Somebody has to think about how many games.”

According to Dale Johnson of ESPN, the most likely solution would be to play the quarterfinal against Aston Villa on 1/7 and postponing the ensuing semifinal first leg originally scheduled for that day to a later date. However, even that presents potential conflicts as the next few weeks are reserved for FA Cup matches, and potential FA Cup third round (1/14) or fourth round (2/4) replays for either participant could cause further havoc.

Another potential solution could be to move the club’s Premier League game against Watford (originally scheduled for Saturday 12/14) to Friday 12/13 and playing the EFL Cup game against Aston Villa on Monday 12/15 before the club departs for Qatar. That would also require the Premier League to reschedule Aston Villa’s game against Sheffield United (originally scheduled for Saturday 12/14) to Friday 12/13 to accommodate the move.

Winter break

The danger of pushing games back as previously suggested presents itself as the club just pushes back the problem to a later and later date. Should the schedule conflicts continue to be shoved further down the calendar, the winter break comes into play. Liverpool is scheduled for a break between games on 2/8 and 2/22 as all Premier League clubs are this season with the league hoping to slowly build a stoppage into its schedule ahead of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar that will require such a scheduling quirk.

Klopp has maintained that the club will not accommodate any alteration to its winter break, thereby subjecting it to a disadvantage to other clubs in the English top flight. This means any FA Cup or EFL Cup fixtures pushed back into February will have to be seriously postponed and could come up against other Cup fixtures or even Champions League knockout stage games.

Klopp’s threat

Could Liverpool really drop out of the EFL Cup altogether to alleviate their fixture congestion? It’s unlikely, and there is no precedent for such a drastic measure. Because the club has already entered the competition and begun play, dropping out would incur a hefty fine.

Manchester United pulled out of the FA Cup in the 1999/2000 season thanks in part to the FIFA Club World Championship, but that saw the club withdraw from the competition before play began, meaning they were not drawn into the competition and given fixture obligations.

Leaving the fixtures as they are and having Liverpool play a youth squad in the EFL Cup is also not an ideal option, Klopp said when asked about the possibility on Friday. “We have discussed it already and we have to because there’s not much time to make that decision,” Klopp said. “If we do play [the EFL Cup] while we are in Qatar, that will be two different teams. But we cannot leave any players at home for the Carabao Cup. We have two games in a busy period and it’s not like we can go there [Qatar] with 11 players. It doesn’t work like this. We have to make a decision but not yet.”

USMNT’s Arriola likely will miss MLS season, six World Cup qualifiers

Paul Arriola
AP Photo/LM Otero
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WASHINGTON (AP) D.C. United midfielder Paul Arriola had major knee surgery Monday and likely will miss the entire Major League Soccer season and the United States’ first six qualifying matches for the 2022 World Cup

The operation was to reconstruct his right anterior cruciate ligament. The team said there was no additional cartilage damage.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The 25-year-old midfielder injured his knee Feb. 15 during D.C. United’s preseason match against Orlando in Tampa, Florida.

Arriola has been a regular starter for the U.S. national team under coach Gregg Berhalter. Arriola has five goals in 33 international appearances.

After failing to reach the 2018 World Cup, the U.S. starts qualifying for the 2022 tournament this year. The Americans have two matches each in September, October and November, then complete qualifying with two games apiece in March and September 2021.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

State of play in CONCACAF Champions League

CONCACAF Champions League
AP Photo/Carlos Gonzalez
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Four of five Major League Soccer clubs alive in the CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16 are in fine shape to reach the quarterfinals after one leg.

The fifth has a tall hill to climb.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

LAFC trails Club Leon by two and did not collect an away goal in Mexico during first leg play last week.

“It’s 2-0, but we’re going to work hard,” said LAFC attacker Latif Blessing. “We’re going to prepare ourselves to win the next game. … We did good, but we want to win. It couldn’t happen that way but we’re going to prepare next game to win this game. We need to win.”

The second leg in L.A. is one of the last two matches of the round, kicking off at 10 p.m. ET Thursday just as Seattle Sounders square off with Olimpia.

The Honduran side managed a controversial comeback in the 2-2 draw with Jordan Morris-fueled Seattle last week, but the Sounders will be happy to have those two away goals and home field.

Montreal Impact has the same situation for Deportivo Saprissa’s visit at 8 p.m. ET Wednesday, while Atlanta United scored an away goal in a draw with Motagua and hosts the visitors from Honduras’ capital at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday.

That leaves us with NYCFC, who got a Heber hat trick amongst five away goals at Costa Rican side San Carlos in a 5-3 win. The second leg begins at 6 p.m. ET Wednesday at Red Bull Arena (yes, you read that correctly).

Elsewhere, Liga MX sides don’t have it much better. Cruz Azul leads Portmore 2-1 heading back to Mexico, while Club America scored an away goal in a draw with Comunicaciones.

Finally, Tigres UANL trails 2-1 after one leg with Alianza in El Salvador.

CCL second leg schedule
all times ET

Atlanta United v. Motagua (1-1) — 8 p.m. Tuesday
Cruz Azul v. Portmore United (2-1) — 10 p.m. Tuesday
NYCFC v. San Carlos (5-3) — 6 p.m. Wednesday
Montreal Impact v. Deportivo Saprissa (2-2) — 8 p.m. Wednesday
Tigres UANL v. Alianza (1-2) — 8 p.m. Wednesday
Club America v. Comunicaciones (1-1) — 10 p.m. Wednesday
Seattle Sounders v. Olimpia (2-2) — 10 p.m. Thursday
LAFC v Leon (0-2) — 10 p.m. Thursday

Eleven to go: Ranking obstacles on Liverpool’s unbeaten path

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Liverpool has won all five of its matches since the last time we evaluated its path to an unbeaten Premier League season.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Those matches were ranked 14th, 12th, 11th, 10th, and 4th on our first rankings of obstacles to immortality, so very little of the heavy lifting has been conducted.

Let’s get something out of the way: If Liverpool is unable to overturn their first leg deficit against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League, you can probably etch that zero in the league loss column into stone.

That said, many expect the Reds to overcome that 1-0 disadvantage from Madrid, so here’s where we slot the difficulties moving forward.

Unranked — Crystal Palace at home (March 21) and Brighton away (April 18) — Both of these dates are very easy on the eyes, but will be moved if Liverpool is alive in the FA Cup.

9. Newcastle away, time TBD May 17 — We’re now calling this the easiest date left. Klopp’s men aren’t going to lose an unbeaten season at the altar just because Steve Bruce bunkers down. St. James’ Park is a hassle, but

8. Watford away, 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday Klopp probably feels like he’s already playing with house money in the FA Cup, so there’s no reason to think he’ll hand any priority at all to the following FA Cup meeting with Chelsea.

7. Bournemouth home, 7:30 a.m. ET March 7 Situated between Chelsea in the FA Cup and the home UCL second leg versus Atleti, it’s not easy…  but the Cherries have given us less reason to believe they’ll threaten the Reds than any other team besides Newcastle.

6. Aston Villa home, 11:30 a.m. ET April 12Dean Smith‘s desperate Villans will have Villa Park rocking before Liverpool’s possible UCL quarterfinals 2nd leg days later.

5. Burnley home, 7:30 a.m. ET April 25 — Taking place just before a possible UCL quarterfinal first leg, Burnley will try to trouble the Reds in a similar manner to West Ham.

4. Chelsea home, time TBD May 9 — Both the Blues and Reds could be coming off UCL semifinal second legs. Don’t forget that Chelsea took the Reds to the wire in the UEFA Super Cup despite it being very early in Frank Lampard‘s tenure.

3. Arsenal away, time TBD May 2 — Both sides may be days away from needing a result to qualify for the UCL or UEL final.

2. Everton away, 4 p.m. ET March 16 — This may as well be the only match left on the Toffees’ docket that matters more than another, as Carlo Ancelotti and his men know the message they could send regarding the building up of Everton.

Not only that, but Everton has nothing else left to circle, no other competitions, nothing.

1. Man City away, 11:30 a.m. ET April 5 — Taking place 3-4 days before the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals and on the heels of an international break, it’s the lone date on the calendar that Liverpool won’t be heavy favorites to win.

Champions League: Chelsea, Napoli aim to slow Lewandowski, Messi

UEFA Champions League preview
Photo by Power Sport Images/Getty Images
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Four of the most dangerous attacks in Europe begin their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 ties on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

For Chelsea that means trying to find a way to limit the damage of away goals when Bayern Munich visits Stamford Bridge.

Of course, that means trying to slow lethal Robert Lewandowski. The 31-year-old Polish striker has scored 38 times in 32 appearances this season.

Here’s Frank Lampard, via Football.London:

Form of his life means something special with Lewandowski because of how well he’s been consistently in Europe for the last, how many years, I don’t know,” Lampard said. “Everything about him, from a distance, from afar, is just top class. Having the opportunity to watch a lot of Bayern in build-up to this game, that shines through. Of course, he’s going to be a huge threat. He’s not the only threat but he is a spearhead.”

Lampard points to the Blues work without the ball and away from it that will determine whether they can limit Lewandowski and Bayern.

“We traveled to Ajax and had a fantastic game off the ball,” he said. “We’ve had games like that this year in the league as well. But the levels have to go up.”

The Blues won’t have Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi, and N’Golo Kante, while Ruben Loftus-Cheek is finally available after a long injury absence. Pedro may play.

[ MORE: JPW’s score predictions ]

Tuesday’s other first leg sees Napoli hosting Barcelona, which means Gennaro Gattuso trying to find a way to cool down Lionel Messi.

The world’s top player scored four goals at the weekend and had six assists in his three previous La Liga outings.

Another player who’s helped Barcelona reclaim the league lead will be critical to controlling the midfield against Napoli, and that’s Frenkie de Jong.

The 22-year-old has had fits and starts at Barca, especially this month. He admits that he’s had an odd time adjusting to Messi, the teammate, though it hasn’t been part of the problem. From FCBarcelona.com:

“When I began training with him it was strange, because when I was 12, still in secondary school, I used to watch a lot of football. He was already the best in the world. He won the Ballon d’Or back then, so I was a fan, or whatever you want to call it.”

Napoli boss Gattuso was a bit more effusive when addressing Messi, via Football.Espana:

“I have read whether to make a cage or not, but we need the collective game to combat someone like him, and it is not just him,” Gattuso said. “He is the best in the world, for how he has lived his entire career. He is always perfect, never a misplaced word, he is an example for everyone. He does things that I only see on the PlayStation. He has an incredible quality and for years he has been the best of all-time.”

Both matches kick off at 3 p.m. ET Tuesday.